Confession time: I find Australian history boring.
Especially when compared to my homeland (i.e. Hungary’s) history…give me Mongol invasions; epic battles against the Ottoman Turks; and being over-run by the Soviet army – that’s what I call interesting!
Not surprisingly, Hungarian history is full of trauma: the rich tapestry of my homeland’s history is coloured red with the blood of the oppressed – both Christian and non-Christian – who’ve suffered immensely whenever they’ve lost their freedom.
And so, the desire for freedom is deeply ingrained into the Hungarian psyche: freedom is worth defending.
Now in 21st Century Australia, basic freedoms (including religious freedom) are under pressure.
And as someone who’s Hungarian, but more importantly Christian, this raises an urgent question for me: Should we defend these freedoms? What’s the Christian response?
When Religious Freedom Is Not Worth Defending:
The ‘Romantic’ view of persecution.
One response is what I call the ‘Romantic’ view of persecution: We shouldn’t try to stop these pressures from becoming persecution: it’ll do the Church some good, and persecution is part of the Christian life.
In an earlier post, I questioned some of the reasoning behind this view:
Now we Christians might feel ok about our basic freedoms gradually being reduced (at least in theory!): but what about our non-Christian neighbour: how might they fare in an environment where their basic freedoms of conscience, association, and speech, are rolled back?
For the sake of our non-Christian neighbour, Christians should defend basic freedoms.
But not everyone agrees.
Christians Shouldn’t Defend Religious Freedom
That’s not what Christians are called to do.
Fellow Christian blogger Nathan Campbell wrote a substantial blog post pushing back against my view.
His piece is well worth reading: it raises important issues about Christian faithfulness in an age of increasing pressure on basic liberties.
However, as it’s quite long, I’ve summarised his key points below, quoting relevant material from his blog post.
And I’ll respond to his post in depth next week.
The Outline of Campbell’s Argument
A ‘Readers Digest’ version.
After beginning with the question of ‘is religious freedom something Christians need/should fight for?, Nathan makes the following points:
1) Secularism is a ‘Religion’, which corrodes and destroys all other religions: so allowing its practice will destroy us.
[H]ow coherent it is to actually push for religious freedom in a culture where the dominant religious position — a sort of idolatrous secularism that enshrines a bunch of new gods — practices its religion by opposing and dismembering all the others [?]
Sure, you can be religious, it says, so long as your religion conforms to our new easy-going, inoffensive, set of beliefs and so long as you don’t call into question the central tenets of individual freedom and identity construction — around like sexuality, gender, and the pursuit of happiness by whatever means possible…This is the religion of our culture.
And if we’re to be consistent, affording its adherents and priestly caste the right to practice will ultimately destroy us, or them.
2) The Fight for Religious Freedom is a ‘Worldly Fight’, and Not What Christians are Called to Do
But what if persecution is actually fundamental to our religious practice — our view of the world?…What if loving our non-Christian neighbour — especially potential victims of persecution — means standing with them and bearing the cost, not fighting to occupy a position of power and influence in worldly ways?
Loving our neighbours — Christian, Australian, or global — will always look like us being like Jesus to them, and for them….(John 13:35), and we’re not just sent to love our brothers and sisters the way Jesus does, but sent into the world to be like Jesus (John 20:21)…
3) Real Love Of Neighbour Is Seen In the Example of Jesus: Dying for Others.
If you want to love your neighbour — and want them to know that your love is an echo of God’s love — then this love is always connected to the example of Jesus, not simply a figuring out what people think is good for them… what they think they need.
If you want to see freedom, power, and love as God does — look at the world through the lens of the cross. If you want to be powerful. If you want real freedom. It’s found in the Gospel, not some other picture.
4) The Faithful Christian Life Involves Being Persecuted By the World.
The Gospel is the power of God that brings salvation (Romans 1:16), the world thinks the Cross, and the view it provides of God, is weakness and folly but it is the power and wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:23-25), and it is the pattern of life and witness we’re to adopt. Weakness. Being crushed, afflicted, destroyed.
This is the picture of Christian life and love; of power and victory. Our victory procession looks like being the ‘scum of the earth, the garbage of the world’ (1 Corinthians 4:11-13).
5) But Christians (In the West) Don’t believe in Being Persecuted: Instead, We Live As If Christian Success Means Not Being Persecuted.
But we don’t really believe that anymore. We’ve been conditioned by too many years of Christendom, or the comfortable idolatrous worship of morality that looked very Christian…now we fight for that idol in the face of our cultures new gods — sexual liberation and the freedom and safety to completely construct one’s identity without being offended.
“My power is made perfect in weakness”? Do we believe this?…We live as though real success looks like worldly victory and freedom in this world.
6) Whilst It’s Good to offer people temporary freedom from suffering, these are ‘Wants’, not ‘needs’: They Don’t offer Real Hope.
Sure, we offer temporary freedom from suffering and pain to people — but we do that by taking it on ourselves, or wearing the cost of fighting for it, and these are good things. But they’re wants. Not needs.
We’re called to a life of persecution and suffering as we bear the cost of following a crucified king in the world that killed him, and the cost of loving those who are afflicted.
Salvation that comes through death and resurrection is the picture of freedom we’re to adopt. Real freedom. And this example is the picture of love we’re to adopt. Anything else offers false hope.
7) Unless we Start believing that God Is The Real Source of Power, Freedom, and Love, We’ll Only Offer Our World ‘Shadows’ and ‘Counterfeits’.
Until we start believing that God is the source of real power, real freedom, and real love, all we’re offering to our world are shadows and counterfeits…
We’ll think we’re loving people if we’re offering up some analogy of the world’s view of power, or flourishing, or love.
8) Christians are Called to Testify to Jesus, Even if It Means Losing Our Lives.
Thus fighting for (our) religious freedom is not necessary.
John and Paul wrote all this stuff about weakness and power, about what we need to flourish, not just nice things we want, about what love for our neighbour really looks like amidst persecution. Not just soft persecution. The persecution that involved the execution of Jesus, and others, for claiming that Caesar was not really powerful; that the emperor had no clothes. This is what we’re called to testify to — not to win religious freedom, but to call out idolatry and its destruction, even in its secular form. At our cost.
This is what neighbour love looks like. Not just laying down our possessions for those who are oppressed and marginalised, but being prepared to lay down our lives in defiance of other religious agendas.
9) The Secular Public Square is Hostile to God, and Hostile to Christians. So We Shouldn’t Expect Religious Freedom to Win the Day.
The secular landscape — the public square — is not neutral. It is not a platform where natural law arguments win out. It’s a landscape controlled by beastly powers who want to keep overcoming the lamb. Because they’re ruled by fear. They’re also not really in control. Their destinies are assured by the one who is — so are ours.
This is what faces us when we faithfully walk into the secular public square. It’s not secular and neutral; its hostile and idolatrous. Its beastly. The world is hostile, as John puts it in 1 John (and Jesus puts it in the Gospel), it’ll hate us because it hates Jesus, it’ll hate us because its full of people ‘secular’ types who, though they seem nice seem to want good things, and seem to be rational, are children of the Devil (1 John 3); people who’ve grabbed onto the temptation of worldly power, not to the Cross.
10) True Christian Love for Neighbour Goes Far Beyond Giving Them Religious Freedom.
Religious freedom is a luxury. A luxury won, in part, through the blood, sweat, tears and sacrifices of Christians throughout the ages, I’m not suggesting we throw it away cheaply; I’m suggesting we rediscover the truths that underpin it.
That we rediscover the radical sort of love for our neighbours that goes far beyond simply winning them the right to freedom of speech, but that comes from speaking freely to them, whatever false picture of god or power they have.
11) Religious Freedom is A Counterfeit god. And Fighting for it With Worldly Tools is Not Being Faithful to Jesus.
I’m suggesting we stop throwing our lot in behind counterfeit gods like ‘freedom’ and start exercising the freedom that comes from knowing God really does love us, and he really is powerful, and real love and power is on display in the crushing victory of the cross — which looks like a crushing defeat.
If we stick with this message rather than playing worldly games using worldly tools (like lobbying, using natural law arguments, or using force) then we avoid a bunch of issues, the sort of issues that arise when we’re inconsistent, the sort of issues that have seen Christians turn the sword against one another, or against others, the sort of issues that undermine our witness.
12) We Can’t Expect to Have Religious Freedom, Because Aggressive Secularism is a Beastly Religion Out to Destroy all Other Religions, Including Christianity.
We can’t actually call for ‘religious freedom’ and expect that it won’t lead to persecution because aggressive secularism is a religion, a beastly religion that co-opts power to destroy all other gods and assimilate people from all other faiths.
13) We need to Believe Afresh that God Works Through Our Weaknesses, Persecutions and Defeats.
I’m suggesting that we should work harder at believing the world isn’t going to love us when we proclaim Jesus, that the secular world is not neutral but opposed to us because it has a different view of power and freedom, and that weakness and apparent defeat is the norm — and what God works through our humble sacrifice offered in love for others.
14) The Government is a Form of God’s Means of Grace to Us, But It Can Also Persecute.
This also gives us clarity when it comes to how we relate to governments. This is tricky, they’re a means of God’s grace to us, a means by which law and order happens, we’re told to pray for them, to live at peace with them, and to obey them.
But the government these instructions specifically, originally, refer to is the government that executed Jesus. Rome. Paul’s approach to the representatives of this government in Acts presumably line up with what he tells us to do in Romans 13.
And what does he do in Romans? He appeals to Caesar, he wants to get to Rome to make some sort of case for his approach to life (and we get a hint that the Gospel makes it into Caesar’s household in Philippians), and en route to Rome he preaches the Gospel to its representatives.
15) The Best Way to Secure Religious Freedom is to Proclaim the Gospel in Word and Deed: This is How it Happened in History.
It’s ultimately this change, via the testimony of the Gospel — God’s power through weakness — and the love for those who are oppressed and marginalised by the beastly powers of the world that brings freedom of religion for people in the west.
According to history, and the development of good things we like, like religious freedom and freedom from persecution, the lived and spoken demonstration of God’s love — the proclamation of the Gospel in word and deed — is the best way to oppose oppression and horrible, harmful, uses of power, the best way to love our neighbours, and the best way to secure religious freedom for those who disagree with us.
A lot of issues have been raised – and I’ll address these in my blog post next week…
(Come back mid next week, or sign up to get an email alert).
Do You Think Christians Should Fight for Religious Freedom? Share your thoughts in the comments below.